Additional funding approved to achieve the vision for Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre

Friday 2, July 2021 | News |

Artists impression of the completed exterior of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre. Courtesy Shand Shelton

The vision for the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre is to revitalise this iconic facility, and for culture, community and commerce to come together to create a stunning, innovative hub of activity in the heart of our city. It will also support the development of a vibrant performing arts sector for our District.

Once complete our community will have an outstanding regional performing arts centre celebrating the unique stories and heritage of our place. The 950+ seat theatre will attract national and international shows to our doorstep.  The flexible black box theatre will accommodate a wide variety of performance genres and stage set-ups. New rehearsal studios will be able to double as production rooms. Accessible digital technology will enable us to take local performances to the world, and a significant heritage building will be restored in the heart of our city.

New floor raking in the Civic Theatre circle. Once complete the Theatre will seat 950+ people

As a Category 1 heritage building sitting on geothermal ground, this hugely complex project has required great care and detailed planning. Construction started in October 2020 and the project has made great progress with more than 30% of the construction phase now complete. The foundations and groundwork are nearing completion, and the public will see the transformed Centre take shape very quickly over the next few months. Reopening is scheduled for mid-2022.

A detailed and robust project plan and budget was developed up front, which identified a range of risks informed by experts. All budget projections were rigorously peer reviewed with information provided by structural engineers, geotechnical engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and project managers. The construction contractor was engaged early to ensure buildability of the design.

“We undertook comprehensive pre-construction investigations and testing, and identified potential risks including additional plaster integrity, asbestos and structural issues,” said Deputy Chief Executive Community Wellbeing, Jocelyn Mikaere.

As construction got underway, and internal walls, floors and ceilings were removed, along with plaster on exterior walls and excavating original foundations, building condition issues, more widespread and severe than pre-construction investigations estimated, were discovered.

Structural cracking uncovered after asbestos and plaster removed

“Until we actually started construction, and removed floors, ceilings, and wall coverings, we could not actually see, and could not have known, the full extent of what we are now dealing with,” she said.

Actual foundations were different to the plans, requiring structural design alterations. Far more extensive cracking, including some structural, was uncovered in the walls. Exterior walls, that were originally to be encapsulated and painted, now require paint/plaster removal and repair to ensure the building achieves the necessary structural strength and consent for weather tightness. As a result, the level of asbestos removal required has increased from 20% to 80% of the building.

This video shows some of the challenges that need to be addressed.

Heritage wall wrapped and ready for asbestos removal

In order for the building to achieve consent, and to prevent future generations encountering similar legacy issues, Council approved additional budget to address these issues.

“Now more than ever, Council must demonstrate confidence and ensure that our special buildings of significant interest are restored and invested in,” said Rotorua Lakes Councillor Mercia Yates.

“This particular building has had its fair share of challenges, but with that I am absolutely excited by the potential of celebrating our arts and culture in a regional first,” she said.

The project budget, set in 2019, was $22.5 million. To ensure the project delivers a safe, sound and fit-for-purpose facility, with the now-known building condition issues addressed, Council has approved a total project budget of $33.7 million. Generous funding support has resulted in $11.1 million being contributed from external sources meaning the total Council contribution is now $22.6 million.

“The team is passionate about this project and have worked tirelessly to keep costs to an absolute minimum,” said Ms Mikaere.

“The revised project budget includes a contingency sum, and the project team is continuing to explore options for further external funding. Ultimately our community will have a leading regional performing arts facility at a fraction of the estimated new build cost of $70-$80 million,” she said.

Once complete, this iconic heritage building in the heart of our city will once again be a hugely valuable, intergenerational asset and a busy community hub celebrating and showcasing the rich and diverse talent for which Rotorua is so famous. It will attract national and international shows for local and regional audiences.

Rotorua Rural Community Board Chair, Shirley Trumper said as part of the Project Steering Group it was our responsibility to ensure a fit for purpose and safe facility met the high expectations of our community and the very artists that will enjoy showcasing their talents to Rotorua.

“Shows of high calibre were missing our city, because the facilities did not meet required industry standards,” said Mrs Trumper.

“To address this we decided to ensure something spectacular came of this opportunity. Yes, this journey has been a challenge, not just in terms of addressing heritage issues but the fact this was a very damaged lady in need of repair. Now, with the funding in place, not only can we deliver stunning facilities, moreover, this iconic building will meet the needs of even the most discerning artist,” she said.

The strengthening and redevelopment of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre is an important project for our district and regional economy, and for the well-being of our community. With about 80% of the contracted trade workforce being local, this project is already delivering positive economic impacts for our community. Once complete it will provide ongoing employment, will support and enable growth in the performing arts sector, and will provide additional capacity for the hugely valuable conference and business event sector, currently worth around $50 million each year to our local economy.

A community update presentation on the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre project will be held in Rotorua Library at 12noon on Tuesday 13 July.

More information about the progress and challenges can be found here.

This video shows Hawkins Site Manager Brent Wade talking about progress on the project and some of the construction challenges they have faced